TheTaj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum in Agra, Uttar Pradesh provinceof India. The mausoleum was commissioned by Mughal emperor shah Jahanin memory of his third deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz Mahal diedin 1631 while giving birth to their 14thchild in Burhanpur, while accompanying her husband in the Deccanplateau. The empress was temporarily buried here but the emperor hadher remains later buried in the Taj Mahal.
TheTaj Mahal “the crown of palaces” is widely recognized as the “thejewel of Muslim art” and has been a UNESCO world heritage sitesince 1983. is a complex made up of differentstructures but the white domed marble mausoleum is the most notableaspect of the Taj Mahal. The Taj attracts millions of visitors yearlyas people come to learn about its history as well as appreciateMughal architecture of the 16thand 17thcenturies. is regarded by many scholars and historiansas the finest existing example of Mughal architecture.
Theconstruction of Taj Mahal was commenced in 1632 after the death ofEmpress Mumtaz Mahal, the third and favorite wife of emperor shahJahan in 1931. The construction was completed sometimes in 1653 aftera construction period of around 22 years. The Taj comprises elementsof Persian, Islamic, Indian, ottoman, and Turkish architecturalstyles. is around 73 meters or 240 feet tall. Theprincipal architect is believed to have been Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.However, the construction was entrusted to a board of architectsunder imperial supervision (Dutemple, 2003).
Accordingto court chronicles, the inspiration of the construction was inspiredby the grief of emperor shah Jahan after losing his third wife MumtazMahal. The chronicles quotes Jahan as describing the temple as “…Inthis world this edifice has been made to display thereby thecreators glory.” The Taj incorporates design traditions of Persianarchitecture and Mughal architecture especially from successfultimurid and Mughal buildings including the Humayun’s tomb, Gur-eAmir and the Jama Masjid.
Incontrast to earlier Mughal buildings that used red sandstone, the TajMahal through the auspices of shah Jahan promoted the use of whitemarble mixed with semi-precious stones making this new building aunique and beautiful structure. The construction of the Taj Mahalcomprised of five key sites or sections, which are:
The Moonlight Garden to the north of the Yamuna.
The Terrace area: this section comprises the Tomb, Mosque, and Jawab.
The Charbagh (gardens).
The Gateway: this section incorporates attendant accommodations and other tombs.
The Taj Ganji (bazaar)
TheTaj has exterior and interior decorations that are described as partof the finest in the Islamic world. Exteriorly, as the surfacechanges so does the decorations used. The decorative elements usedinclude paint application, stucco, carvings, or stone inlays. Duringthe construction period, there was widespread prohibition on the useof anthropomorphic forms and thus the available decorations wereabstract forms, calligraphy, or vegetative motifs. The building usesnumerous passages from the Qur’an as decorative elements. It isbelieved but not proven that these passages were chosen by AmanantKhan. Amanant khan was born Abd Ul-Haq but was given this title byshah Jahan in 1609 because of his “dazzling virtuosity.”
Theexterior design also incorporates symmetrical geometric formsespecially on the minarets, dome, the gateway, and the surfaces ofthe tomb. To add on the beauty and complexity of the structure, theis the use of herringbone inlays on many spaces between adjoiningelements, use of white inlays in sandstone buildings, and use ofblack inlays on white marbles.
Theinterior of the Taj is also well decorated beyond traditionaldecorative elements. The interior inlays are comprised of preciousand semi-precious gemstones. The interior octagon designed chambercan be accessed from all angles but only the door facing the gardenon the south side is used. The roof openings covered with chattrisallows for the sun’s rays from the balcony screens to light up theinternal chambers and add on to the interior beauty of the Taj.
BecauseMuslim tradition prohibits elaborate decoration of graves, the bodiesof Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are laid in relatively plain cryptsbeneath the inner chamber. Their faces are turned right facing thedirection of Mecca. Both the casket and the base are laid inelaborate precious and semi precious gems.
TheTaj complex is surrounded by a 980 square foot of garden. To add onits beauty, the garden uses raised pathways dividing the fourquarters of the garden into different patterns. In the middle of thegarden, there is a raised marble water tank that reflects the imageof the mausoleum. The garden also comprises several avenues offountains and trees that add on to the beauty of the complex.
Inaddition, the Taj complex is also bounded by several buildings of redsandstone that resemble the architectural designs of the period.These buildings include the tombs of Jahan`s other wives, the tomb ofMumtaz’s favorite servant, among buildings that served otherpurposes including the mosque and the museum. The complex is welldecorated and this is one of the reasons why it attracts millions ofvisitors each year.
TheTaj Mahal was constructed on a piece of land to the south of thewalled city of Agra. This is where Mumtaz Mahal was born and broughtup. As an adult Mumtaz, loved to watch many elephant and combatfights. During her free time, Mumtaz devoted herself to a riversidegarden in Agra and it is highly believed that this is the reason thatmade the emperor to dedicate or build Mumtaz’s tomb in Agra, aplace that she dearly loved. According to records, there was anactive labor force of between 20,000 and 30,000 workers mainly fromnorthern India who took part in the construction of the Taj Mahal inall different periods.
Soonafter the completion of the Taj, shah Jahan was deposed by his sonAurangzeb and was kept captive in a nearby Agra Fort where he couldview his wife’s tomb. Upon his death, Jahan was buried in the Tajnext to his favorite wife Mumtaz. The Taj was in a bad state ofdisrepair by the end of the 19thcentury. In addition, the Taj was seriously destroyed during theIndian rebellion of 1857. British viceroy lord Curzon ordered amassive restoration project for the Taj in the end of the 19thcentury that was completed in 1908. During this time, the garden wasalso remodeled into a British-style lawn that is in place in presentday.
TheTaj was protected from possible enemy attacks by use of scaffoldingsduring the Second World War and the India-Pakistan wars between 1965and 1971. Other threats include environmental pollution in the formof acid rain and declining ground water levels in the Yamuna riverbasin.
Dutemple,L., A. (2003). TheTaj Mahal.Lerner Publications.
Hasan,P. (November 1994). Review of Mughal Architecture: Its outline andits history. TheJournal of Asian Studies53 (4).
Tillitson,G. (1990). ArchitecturalGuide to Mughal India.Chronicle Books.
Theofficial Taj Mahal website retrieved on May 19, 2014 available at http://www.tajmahal.gov.in/mumtaz.html